MY choice of everyday car is something of a running joke amongst family and friends.
How can I, they say, cart the kids around in a small wagon while the rest of the country, if not the world, fill their driveways with SUVs of all shapes, sizes and value? You're a motoring writer, they say, you should know better. Get with the times, man.
Fully explaining my resistance to the revolution takes many hours and a fair few beers so I'll spare you that over these pages, but I'll admit my personal iciness to SUVs thaws when one in the segment fills its job description better than most.
Enter Hyundai's Tucson, the larger replacement for the popular ix35 which arrived late last year. If this model's raison d'etre is to be family practical, good value, safe, all-terrain, economical and aesthetically desirable, it's hard to mark the Tucson down.
Not least when there's a decent range to choose from to suit your budget and lifestyle. My test car was the $40k all-wheel-drive Elite version with the range's most powerful and torquiest motor - a 136kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel with excellent economy. The Elite's price may exclude it from some budgets, but for me, this model correctly meets the criteria of a versatile family SUV.
The Tucson range starts at $27,990 for a 2WD petrol manual, which will suit the many bitumen-only buyers seeking the five-seater's attractive styling for that money. Such is the price leap to AWD and diesel, shoppers should ensure their Tucson usage justifies such an upgrade as it's a fine offering across the range.
Hyundai has a reputation for unfussy if a tad plain cabins and the Tucson is no different. Despite its striking body design the interior is somewhat dark and austere, but layout is user friendly, buttons and steering wheel controls solid and there's plenty of soft plastics.
An 8-inch touchscreen is your dash focal point and is crisp and simple to navigate. It's well-placed too for glancing at the sat nav or rear parking camera. My test found the bluetooth to be a bit sketchy, while no Apple CarPlay for these Tucsons (perversely it's only on the lesser models at present) is tough to stomach.
It's a roomy cabin with good visibility, and the seats - cloth rather than leather - are electric adjustable (10-way for the driver) up front. They are firm chairs but supportive and proved excellent for distance travel.
On the road
Talk about easy to live with. Hyundai likes to shout about its custom Australian tuned suspension and it has every right to: these Tucsons ride sublimely.
In total, 103 tests of different damper, spring stabiliser bar and tyre combinations were conducted to optimise the SUV's ride/handling compromise, and as with most other current Hyundai products the Aussie team has triumphed.
My first test was over Brisbane's pitted roads and it swallowed the imperfections as if I were on a new stretch of Autobahn. Effortless smoothness was noted, while my highway drive - 110kmh is at a mere 1900rpm in this cosseting cabin - showed how easy and peacefully the SUV would cruise. I'd therefore expect the first decent corner I found would unstick such a compliant chassis. Nope. Despite its size the Tucson showed nice balance and grip, and was even good fun to hustle through turns, with that on-demand AWD mopping up the tough stuff.
The diesel's wads of torque made it great to quickly squirt in and out of junctions - or cut up other school run traffic - and again the auto gearbox was an unruffled gem. It is just a very, very easy car to drive and live with.
What do you get?
Key inclusions are an 8-inch touchscreen, sat nav, rear view camera, rear park assist, daytime running lights, cruise control, electric driver's seat, smart key, push button start and hands-free tailgate.
What grates are some of the toys the $10k-cheaper 2WD Tucson Active X scores that this diesel Elite doesn't. Big one is Apple CarPlay, but the pricier Elite also gets smaller 17-inch alloys and cloth instead of leather seats. Only the top grade Highlanders gets all the hi-tech active safety gear like lane keep, blind spot and autonomous emergency braking, so if these are non-negotiables for family safety, you'll need to move on up the scale.
Put me in a corner and I'll admit, overall, mid-size SUVs are hard to beat as family haulers. Hyundai's filled the Tucson with clever cubbies and drink holders for all occupants, while the second row of seats will take three adults, or, as in my case, two child seats very easily. A smart key and power tailgate with this model are good scores. The boot with rear seats up give 488-litres which should swallow most of the kids' paraphernalia plus the weekly shop, or with seats down it was a breeze to fit my road bike in the back fully assembled.
The diesel benefit is fuel economy close to quoted, which is an excellent 6.4-litres/100km. We returned 6.7-litres overall on test, but highway use saw averages impressively below six. Another win is Hyundai's five-year warranty plus fixed-price servicing for life.
Behold! A cast of thousands (almost). In 2016 thus far only the Mazda CX-5 has outsold the Tucson, with $38,990 buying the equivalent diesel AWD. Other all-paw oil burner rivals include the Toyota RAV4 ($35,990), Nissan X-Trail ($35,680), Subaru Forester ($33,490) or Kia Sportage ($33,990).
A real style champion externally, the Tucson has attractive flowing body surfaces, funky wheel design and classy front end with its hexagonal grille and sharp lights. The cabin jazz isn't really there however, Hyundai erring towards practical and simple rather than wow factor.
The Tucson's initial appeal are its delightful looks, making the entry level petrol versions for around $30k enticing indeed. As an all-rounder however this AWD diesel Elite fulfils the family SUV remit to near perfection, but creeping over $40k makes it less attainable for all.
What a superb thing to live with though. Great chassis and diesel powerplant, such comfort and ease to drive, plus it's roomy for its class and cheap to run. If it only had better smartphone connectivity and active safety inclusions for the price it would be near impossible to fault.
Model: Hyundai Tucson Elite Diesel.
Details: Five-seat mid-size diesel SUV with on-demand 4WD.
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo-diesel with maximum power of 136 kW @ 4000rpm and peak torque of 400Nm @ 1750rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Towing: 1600kg (braked).
Bottom line plus on-roads: $40,240.
What matters most
What we liked: Hard to fault as an all-round practical family SUV, ride comfort in all conditions, beautiful styling, fuel economy, diesel shove, electric seats and tailgate.
What we'd like to see: Apple CarPlay in this model (it's only available in entry-level Tucsons for now), better bluetooth, less austere cabin and dashboard, more active safety inclusions.
Warranty and servicing: Five-year unlimited-kilometre warranty and fixed-price servicing for life.
Driving experience 19/20
Features and equipment 15/20
Functionality and comfort 17/20
Value for money 15/20
Style and design 18/20
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